The Ministry of Health in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has declared an outbreak of the chikungunya virus after three cases were confirmed on the northern Grenadine island of Bequia.
Minister of Health Clayton Burgin, in making the declaration at a press conference Thursday afternoon, said the ministry was informed Wednesday evening that three of four samples sent to Trinidad tested positive.
“Although there are only three confirmed cases, I have been advised by the professionals in this ministry that these are sufficient to now declare an outbreak of the vector-borne disease,” Burgin said at the press conference at which health officials also outlined their response to the virus.
Cases of chikungunya on Bequia were first suspected last week Monday, April 14, and the Ministry of Health gave no such indicated in press releases three days later, in which it said there were no confirmed cases of the disease in SVG, and announced three cycles of fogging against mosquitoes in Bequia.
Health officials at the briefing also defended their decision not to warn last week Thursday about the suspected cases of the disease in Bequia, even as a large number of persons prepared to travel to the northern Grenadine island for Easter celebrations.
It was also revealed at the press briefing that samples were collected for a further 14 persons on the island suspected of having contracted the virus, and those samples will be sent for testing early next week.
Burgin noted that the disease is now prevalent in the Caribbean, but was almost unknown in the region before December 2013.
“But, moreover, an outbreak of any communicable disease will understandably challenge our public health capacity to respond, particularly the pathological laboratory services,” he said, noting that SVG does not have the facilities to test for the virus.
“But despite the challenges, I am satisfied that the public health officials in the ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment have responded to the outbreak with such a high level of professionalism that I am confident that we will be able to contain the spread of the disease.
“In this regard, our efforts at the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment will be made lighter with the involvement of everyone.
“In my capacity as Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, I give you my solemn promise that the professionals will keep you up to date every step of the way,” he further said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Rosmond Adams, chair of the National Surveillance Committee within the Ministry of Health, noted that chikungunya was first described during an outbreak in Tanzania 1952.
He, however, said SVG is at risk because the virus is new to the region and is transmitted by the same mosquito that spreads dengue.
Adams said the ministry has in place a system that monitors for all infectious diseases, and this surveillance system detected chikungunya in SVG.
He said the Surveillance Committee — which meets on Fridays, but convened Thursday morning ahead of the briefing — has prepared a manual that will guide in the management of the disease, and have consulted with key stakeholders such as the laboratory and the vector control professionals.
He further said that the Ministry of Health has circulated to the public since last year information about signs and treatment of chikungunya, and have sent medical personnel overseas for training in managing the disease.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Dr. Rosmond Adams, as “medical registrar in the Department of Primary Healthcare and the Environment”. He is actually chair of the National Surveillance Committee within the Ministry of Health.